Welcome to ‘I tried it,’ an ongoing series in which our reporters try novel or trendy experiences in New York — so you can decide if you want to.
There are too many nightclubs in New York to count. But few can take the crown for being home to the best live techno music in the city — maybe in the U.S.
Basement, in Maspeth, Queens, opened in 2019 and can likely take that title. It exists underneath an old glass and door factory and is New York’s premier techno club.
The club has hosted the best local talent as well as some of the hardest-hitting international names, like the UK’s Surgeon and the German duo Schwefelgelb.
But its bouncers are notoriously fickle about whom they let in, and would-be ravers must submit to a vibe check at the door. In fact, I first learned about Basement from a viral video a woman posted after she and her friends were shown the way out.
Still, as a lover of the genre — I’ve sought out techno exhibits and record stores in Berlin and Vienna — I knew I had to try my luck.
I opted to party solo on a Friday night at Basement a few weeks ago. I arrived at the upstairs venue, the Knockdown Center, early at 11 p.m. — most folks start rolling in around 2 a.m. — so the line was short.
Outside, it’s an unremarkable space on Flushing Avenue, next to a tire shop and a wholesale appliance warehouse. The streets were practically empty.
When I reached the front, a security member checked my ID and instructed me to talk to the bouncers.
“Why are you here?” asked the first person, who was completely dressed in black. He maintained eye contact with me throughout our brief conversation.
I said I was there to listen to techno.
“What DJs are playing?” the bouncer asked. “Who do you want to listen to?”
I had quite literally prepared for this question by studying the lineup. I knew umfang, a local artist who liked to perform on vinyl, was up that night
“I’m here to see umfang,” I said. “A friend of mine told me about them.”
“Well she’s playing right now so you better get in,” said another bouncer, who’d been quiet during the whole interaction.
Then I walked down a ramp leading into the basement of this old industrial factory, toward a red light. I could hear the thumping bass and synthesizers.
I was instructed to give my phone to security, who covered the front and back cameras with a very adhesive sticker. No photos were allowed inside the club.
From Detroit to Berlin to New York City
As I entered Basement I was reminded of the Paris Catacombs: concrete, stone pillars and a sinister energy. New York’s Basement follows the tradition of similar techno club spaces using abandoned factories, warehouses and fringe basements.
The industrial setting goes back to 1980s Detroit, the genre’s birthplace. As factories were being abandoned, young people hosted parties in those spaces.
“The development of Detroit techno is tied to the city’s deindustrialization,” wrote Thomas Bell in “Sound, Society and the Geography of Popular Music,” adding that “techno music … was the product of middle-class, [B]lack beneficiaries of Fordism at the tail end of industrialization in the late 1970s to early 1980s.”
The music spread to Europe in 1988, propelled in part by the release of a compilation “Techno! The New Dance Sound of Detroit.” By the 1990s, Berlin came to create an “extensive club life” in its “postindustrial and dystopian character,” following the fall of the Berlin wall, according to Sean Nye, a professor of musicology at USC.
Most notably, Berghain, which opened in 2004 and is located in Berlin, is lauded as the world’s best club. It functions in what used to be a heating plant built in 1953, during Germany’s post-war development, and is notorious for ravers who want to party for 36 hours straight.
Basement is known to many as New York’s answer to Berghain.
As the full floor came into view, the red light that entranced me earlier was visible throughout the whole club, dangling from ceiling spotlights and behind the DJ booth, too.
By midnight, there were still only 20 or 30 people on the main dance floor. Two hours later, it was filled with hundreds of people. Some wore tight sleeveless blouses or mesh tops, while others chose to go shirtless.
I could not escape the constant boom and clack of the bass and drums. For audiophiles, the sound system is high quality for a club environment, with speakers the size of refrigerators, akin to that of Public Records in Brooklyn.
There are two different spaces, each with its own DJ and genre of electronic music. The “basement” room plays techno, with its repetitive bass, hi-hats and alien-like synthesizers. The “studio” room features more house music which is also repetitive, known for vocal samples, and claps.
I only found the “studio” room halfway through my night, at around 1 a.m. It was the best live house music I ever heard. Props to Dee Diggs’ performance.
My typical club night involves a few dance moves, chatting with friends, and a couple drinks. This was the first time in my nightlife experience where I danced for hours straight. I left the club at 4 a.m. feeling physically tired but mentally restless. I couldn’t forget the bass. My heart felt synchronized to its repetition until I woke up the next morning.
Tips if you want to go to Basement
Be warned: It may be tricky to get in.
I’m not saying I have anything special, but the internet is filled with people’s pain over being denied entry at Basement.
You can buy a ticket ahead of time, but it doesn’t guarantee anything
“Never had a night out in the city completely ruined so arbitrarily,” said one person, who said they were denied after admitting to the high offense of taking a Lyft to the club.
“Told we were dressed too nicely to get it [in],” said another.
Basement routinely denies people entry based on the unexplained whims of the door staff, according to dozens of reviews on social media.
Some wannabe guests were accused of “caring too much,” others were told it just wasn’t their night, and others allege much more serious accusations, such as being denied entry for their identity.
“Basement does not discriminate based on sexual identity, race, gender, any of those things,” said club co-founder Tyler Myers. “We do discriminate in terms of the sense of who’s there intentionally.”
My advice is make sure you’re really a techno fan and read up before going.
Consider a solo outing.
If you don’t know who to go with, consider checking out Basement alone. Many ravers enjoy the music solo. It can be meditative. I went alone and had a great time. At one point, I ran into someone I’d met at another techno club in Brooklyn.
Have a backup plan in case you don’t get in.
I don’t understand why I had no problems getting into the club, but others have. I’ve read that being visibly drunk and loud in line could likely get you turned away. It helped that I knew who was performing that night. But since entry is not guaranteed, have a backup plan in mind.
Know what you want out of the evening.
If your intention is to party and sing, the “studio” room will be more up your alley. The music is upbeat and lively (depends on the lineup of the night so check the website). If hard or classical techno is your thing, then check out the main room.
This story has been updated to reflect that Tyler Myers is a co-founder of the club.